Sunday 28 December 2014

Ephedra: The Best Weight Loss Herb You Can’t Buy

The ephedra species are tall plants that grow in arid regions of the World. Chinese ephedra (Ephedra sinica) is also called Ma Huang and is the species found in Asia, whereas European ephedra (Ephedra distachya) is the form found in Europe. Other species include Phedra viridis, Ephedra gerardiana, Ephedra nevadensis and Ephedra americana. Ephedra plants contain alkaloids which are believed to be the active ingredients in preparations. The total alkaloid content of ephedra is around 3 to 4 % with 50 to 90 percent of this being the alkaloid ephedrine and the remaining alkaloids comprising pseudoephedrine and norpseudoephedrine. The alkaloid content of other ephedrine species varies with Ephedra nevadensis containing no ephedrine. Ephedra has been used in Chinese medicine for millennia to treat asthma, hay fever, bronchitis arthritis and hypotension. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were chemically synthesised in the 1920’s and since then have been used as cold and flu remedies.
Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are beta adrenergic agonist and in this regard are able to mimic the effects of adrenaline. This puts ephedrine in the same group of drugs as amphetamine, although the effects of ephedrine are much milder than in the case of amphetamine. Ephedrine therefore has a pronounced effect on the cardiovascular system, and in particular is able to increase heart rate and the force of contraction of heart muscle. This explains the ability of ephedrine to treat hypotension. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine can relax bronchial muscle because there are beta adrenergic receptors in the airway. This is a similar mechanism by which clenbuterol and salbutamol are able to relax the airway. This explains the ability of ephedrine to treat rhinitis, hay fever and asthma. Pseudoephedrine tends to be a better bronchial drug than ephedrine because it has fewer of the cardiovascular and central nervous system side effects. Ephedrine also stimulates the central nervous system giving users a strong motivational desire.
Perhaps the most famous use for ephedra is as a weight loss aid. Clinical studies attest the the effectiveness of ephedra preparations in this regard. Based on its performance in clinical trials it could be argued that there is no better weight loss drug. The ability of ephedra to cause weight loss likely relates to the presence of the ephedrine it contains. Ephedrine is able to stimulate beta adrenergic receptors on fat cells and this causes a breakdown of triglycerides to fatty acids. At the same time, ephedrine stimulates substrate utilisation and the fatty acids are oxidised to produce heat. Estimates from studies show that ephedrine may increase heat production by 40 %, with most of the energy for this being derived from fat. Ephedrine is also an effective weight loss drug because it causes a retention of skeletal muscle that allows the resting metabolic rate to be maintained at a higher level than would normally be possible during weight loss. This is a shame, because ephedra is no longer available for sale in the United Kingdom, despite an excellent safety record..
The thermogenic effects of ephedrine are enhanced by concomitant administration of methylxanthines (e.g. caffeine) and salicylates (e.g. aspirin). Studies involving just isolated ephedrine have shown weight loss effects, but the results from such studies are inconsistent. This likely relates to the fact that the addition of methylxanthines and salicylates is required to get the most thermogenic benefit from ephedrine. Most studies using a combination of ephedrine and caffeine have used roughly ten times the dose of caffeine to ephedrine. For example, if 20 mg of ephedrine was administered the dose of caffeine required for effective synergism is roughly 200 mg. A similar formula is used to optimise the intake of aspirin for a synergistic effect. Therefore 20 mg of ephedrine would be taken with 200 mg of caffeine and 200 mg of aspirin. This regimen is usually repeated 3 times per day, with the last dose being around late afternoon, so that sleep is not disturbed by the pronounced stimulating effect of the ephedrine and caffeine.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Animal Produce Nomenclature

Bromelain: Anti-inflammatory Compounds

Bromelain is a group of proteolytic (protein digesting) enzymes that are found in high concentrations in the pineapple (Ananas comosus). Bromelain is similar to the sulfhydryl proteases papain from papayas and ficin from figs. Bromelain can be obtained by eating the pineapple fruit, but commercially available supplements are usually made from the stem. Bromelain is present in the fruit to allow softening of the fruit during the ripening process. The bromelain content of various parts of the pineapple plant differs and this reflects the fact that bromelain is a collection of proteolytic enzymes not a single substance. The activity of bromelain (as with all enzymes) is expressed as enzyme units and this gives an idea of the potency of any preparation. Bromelain is bioavailable in humans and can be absorbed to the circulation when taken orally. Animal studies show that around 40 % of administered bromelain is absorbed, with peak absorption occurring 10 hour post ingestion and bromelain remaining in circulation for 48 hours.
Dietary bromelain has been researched for its ability to improve digestion, reduce inflammation, decrease blood platelet aggregation and cause relaxation of smooth muscle. The ability of bromelain to reduce inflammation is thought to occur via multiple mechanisms. In this regard, bromelain may activate proteolysis at sites of inflammation, inhibit the synthesis of proinflammatory eicosanoids, deplete kininogen (a cofactor required in the inflammatory pathway), and the activation fibrinolysis (the breakdown of fibrin in the clotting system that would normally encase the site of injury and block blood flow and cause oedema) through conversion of plasminogen to plasmin. The ability of bromelain to inhibit and reduce the inflammatory response to injury is well studies in the nutritional literature. It is the ability of bromelain to reduce inflammation that makes it useful in cases of soft tissue injury as might occur in athletes during sporting events.
The anti-inflammatory effects of bromelain make it a useful treatment for arthritis. Both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis respond positively to administration of oral bromelain, as demonstrated in clinical studies. In combination with curcumin (another potent anti-inflammatory agent) bromelain is able to reduce the requirement for corticosteroids in cases of severe arthritis. Bromelain may also be able to increase plasma and tissue levels of particular antibiotics. This may relate to the fact that bromelain itself possesses antibiotic activity and therefore potentiates the action of antibiotic drugs by providing synergism. Animal studies also suggest that bromelain has an anti-cancer activity. Interestingly when the proteolytic activity of bromelain is removed through denaturing, an anti-cancer effect in the preparation is still evident, suggesting that components other that the proteolytic enzymes within bromelain are responsible for this effect. Bromelain is taken on an empty stomach for best absorption or with food as a digestive aid.

Sunday 21 December 2014

The Cardioprotective Effects of Walnuts

Whole Grain Versus Refined Grains

Evidence suggests that consumption of whole grain foods is associated with protection from Western lifestyle diseases. In contrast, consumption of refined grains increases the risk of a number of major Western diseases including obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Because of the different health outcomes between whole grains and refined grains, it is worth considering the nutritional differences between the two forms of cereal grain in order to assess the reasons for the discrepancy in health outcomes. Generally whole grains retain the original composition of the cereal grain while refined grains have certain components removed during processing. Grains possess an outer bran layer, an inner endosperm later and a germ layer. The bran is a layer between the outer seed coat and the aleurone layer of the endosperm. The endosperm is a starchy layer within the aleurone layer and within the endosperm in the germ later. The germ is the embryo for sprouting a new plant and the endosperm is a source of energy for this growth until photosynthesis can proceed.
Processing the grain tends to remove the outer seed coat, the bran and the germ layers. This is done for taste reasons, as white refined flour from cereal grains is prefered by the Western palate. In addition, white flour has a longer shelf life compared to its whole grain equivalent, and this is beneficial for the food industry. This leaves the starchy endosperm as the main component of white refined flour. The bran, germ and aleurone layers contains most of the fibre in the grain and also many of the vitamins and minerals and other nutrients. Removing the fibre is problematic because it may increase the rate of digestion of the starchy endosperm layer, and this can increase the absorption rate of the subsequent glucose considerably. Refined grains therefore tend to produce greater rises in blood sugar when compared to their whole grain alternatives. Over time the exaggerated blood sugar responses caused by fibreless refined grains can cause insulin resistance and this contributes significantly to disease.
However, the refining of the micronutrients from cereal grains can also cause health problems. The mineral chromium for example is required for correct function of the insulin receptor. Without chromium as a cofactor, the insulin receptor becomes insensitive to the hormone insulin and this causes increases in blood sugar levels and metabolic dysfunction. Grains are also a good source of antioxidants, and refining the bran, germ and aleurone layers from grains removes most of their antioxidants. However, whole grains cereals might also contribute to ill health if their processing results in a flour that is too fine. This is because the outer layers of fibre and intact cell walls might be required to provide the beneficial glycaemic effects of whole grains. This certainly explains the beneficial glycaemic effects of rolled oats, grains that retain not only their original composition, but also much of their structure. As will all plants foods eating them in an as unprocessed form as possible may therefore be the most advantageous situation for health.

Saturday 20 December 2014

The Pharmacological Effects of Niacin

Coenzyme Q10: The Cardioprotective Nutrient

Coenzyme Q10 is an essential part of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Every eukaryotic cell therefore needs coenzyme Q10, hence its alternative name ubiquinone. Coenzyme Q10 functions as an electron acceptor in the mitochondria and in this way is involved in the transfer of electrons from the energy producing pathways of glycolysis and the citric acid cycle to molecular oxygen, leading to the production of water and carbon dioxide. In this process ATP is produced and coenzyme Q10 is therefore pivotal in energy production. Coenzyme Q10 is synthesised endogenously in humans and so on first sight it might appear that dietary coenzyme Q10 is not important. However, since its discovery in 1957 by Crane and his coworkers, it has been shown repeatedly that dietary coenzyme Q10 does have particular health benefits in certain subgroups of the population. In particular high doses of supplemental coenzyme Q10 may be beneficial as an antioxidant as well as in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and periodontal disease.
Coenzyme Q10 is known to possess antioxidant ability in humans, and in this regard is effective at preventing lipid peroxidation. Coenzyme Q10 can work to recycle vitamin E (here) and thus is able to protect cell membranes from oxidation. Evidence suggests that ageing can reduce the synthesis of coenzyme Q10. As levels of coenzyme Q10 drop, the most metabolically active tissues are affected first. Because the heart is very metabolically active, a low production of coenzyme Q10 can cause heart problems. Supplemental coenzyme Q10 has been shown to be beneficial at protecting from the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, with particularly efficacy shown against congestive heart failure. This makes sense, because congestive heart failure is seen as a condition caused by an inability for the heart to pump correctly and this may relate to low energy levels in heart tissue muscle. As well as congestive heart failure, coenzyme Q10 has been shown to be effective against high blood pressure, mitral valve prolapse and angina.
Another use for supplemental coenzyme Q10 is in the treatment of periodontal disease. Poor oral hygiene can allow a buildup of bacteria and plaque within the mouth and this leads to inflammation that causes a receding gum line. Eventually this progresses to periodontitis and the the teeth become inflamed because pockets of bacteria spread to below the gum line. As the bone that hold the teeth is destroyed, the teeth can fall out and cause irreversible damage. Consensus is that oral hygiene plays an important role in the aetiology of periodontal disease. However, if oral hygiene is improved, the gum tissue requires large amounts of energy to heel. This makes coenzyme a useful supplements to take to repair the damage from receding gums. Studies show that coenzyme Q10 can reduce inflammation in cases of periodontal disease. Around 50 to 200 mg of coenzyme Q10 is used to treat cardiovascular disease and periodontal disease, but lower doses can still provide significant antioxidant protection from oxidative stress.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Get Rid Of Cellulite: Gotu Kola

Centella asiatica or gotu kola is a water loving flowering plant native to India, parts of Asia, Australia and Madagascar. Traditionally the whole plant can be used medicinally as a treatment for various vascular conditions. Gotu kola has been extensively studied for its effects on vascular tissue and from these studies a number of triterpenoid compounds including asiatic acid, madecassic acid, asiaticoside and madecassoside have been isolated. However differences in the chemical compositions of plants from various regions have been observed. Standardised extract of gotu kola tend to come from those plant grown in Madagascar and typically contain around 30 % asiatic acid, madecassic acid and asiaticoside, as these has been identified as the primary active constituent of the plant. Levels of madecassoside in standardised extract may only be around 2 %. Other compounds present in extracts of gotu kola include quercetin and kaempferol and the essential oils camphor and cineole.
Gotu kola has been used traditionally as an internal and external medicine for the treatment of various conditions. However, of particular interest gotu kola can be used as a treatment for vascular disorders and modern research supports traditional herbalism in this regard. The ability of gotu kola to improve the condition of vascular tissue is likely due to its wound healing effects. This healing process likely includes a stimulation of hair and nail growth, the development and maintenance of blood vessels into connective tissue, increase mucin, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulphate production, an increase in the tensile strength of the dermis, and an increased keratinisation of the dermis through a stimulative effect on the germinal layer of the skin. As a result of these physiological effects extracts of gotu kola are beneficial at treating burns, cellulite and disorders of the veins. The ability of gotu kola to improve cellulite in women has been demonstrated in properly conducted clinical trials, with around half of all subjects showing positive improvements in their condition.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Post Workout Nutrition

Antioxidant Defences: Get Your Cysteine

Glutathione is a tripeptide synthesised from cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine. Glutathione is the primary water soluble antioxidant in both animal and plant tissues and in this role it protects cells from damage by oxidative stress. Glutathione can function as an effective water soluble antioxidant because of the presence of a sulphur group in its structure. This sulphur can donate a hydrogen to reduce other compounds, and in doing so becomes oxidised itself. Studies show that glutathione levels are associated with health and so chronic oxidative stress than can deplete cellular levels of glutathione may be the underlying cause of many diseases of Western origin. Physical exercise is also able to deplete cellular stores of glutathione. Generally if enough rest is provided between training sessions glutathione stores recover and may even improve through supercompensation. However, chronic overtraining that provides inadequate recovery periods may cause long term depletion of glutathione stores and this may explain the disease associated with the stress of exhaustive physical activity.
Antioxidants in the diet may be able to boost cellular levels of glutathione. This relates to the way antioxidants interact. Dietary intakes of vitamin C for example have been shown to spare cellular glutathione and thus increase tissue levels of glutathione. Another way to increase cellular levels of glutathione is to increase dietary intakes of the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine is the rate limiting amino acid for glutathione synthesis and so poor glutathione status in combination with inadequate cysteine in the diet retards the synthesis of glutathione and cellular levels drop. During periods of chronic oxidative stress, cysteine may become conditionally essential due to its role in the synthesis of glutathione. One way to increase dietary intakes of cysteine is by taking the supplement N-acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC). Supplements of NAC have been shown to be effective at promoting glutathione synthesis. Another way to boost cellular glutathione is to increase intakes of dietary proteins that are high in cysteine. Whey protein is particularly high in cysteine and thus may replete cellular levels of glutathione.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Kava: The Best Anxiety Cure?

Kava (Piper methysticum) is a perennial shrub that belongs to the pepper family. It is recognisable by its 5 to 10 inch long heart shaped leaves. However, while the visible parts of the kava plant are interesting from a botanical point of view, nutritionally it is the roots of the plants that can be used medicinally. The roots of the kava plant are thick, tuberous and knotty and can be extensive. The roots by dry weight contain around 45 % starch, 12 % water, 3.5 % simple sugars and 3.5 % protein. In addition the kava root contains around 3.5 % minerals, most of which is potassium. The origins of the kava plant are not known, but it is thought to have been spread through the South Sea Islands by Polynesian explorers in canoes. Kava drinking ceremonies are traditional amongst the Oceanic people (Pacific Islanders) of islands such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. These kava ceremonies still form part of the tradition of these islands.
Kava is traditionally used as a treatment for anxiety, and it is believed that the active ingredients that provide some of the anxiolytic effect of kava are chemicals called kavalactones. However, as crude extracts of kava may have better effects against anxiety compared to isolated kavalactones, is is likely that other components within the roots of the kava plant contribute to the medicinal properties. Drinking kava tea made from a decoction of the roots in hot water provides a feeling of contentment and relaxation. Most pharmaceutical anxiolytic drugs work by binding to receptors of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. This then decreases neuronal excitation causing a relating effect. However, kavalactones may work via an alternative route. Animal studies for example show that kavalactone alter receptor domains, and are not able to bind to the GABA receptor. Clinical studies using standardised extracts of kavalactones containing D, L-kavain (a purified kavalactone) have proven effective at treating anxiety in human subjects.
Kavalactone may actually have an effect on the limbic system of the brain, the primitive brain that is thought to be the initiator of emotional feeling. In addition, unlike pharmaceutical drugs, kava does not lose effectiveness over time, and is not associated with side effects at reasonable doses other than the ability to induce sleep (which is not really a side effect). Very high doses of kava over prolonged periods can cause dry skin on the hands and feet, something that is reversible on cessation of kava. Kava can also reduce the sensation of pain, but it does not bind to opioid receptors and so again the mechanisms of action is not clear. The kavalactone content of kava root varies between 3 and 20 percent, and this may affect the neurochemical effects seen. While tablets are available containing kavalactones, it is generally recommended that the whole root is consumed due to the possible anxiolytic contribution of other components in the root.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Dandelion: Diuretic and Liver Tonic

The name dandelion comes from the French for lions tooth (dent de lion). This is in reference to the jagged tooth like leaves that characterise the dandelion plant (Taracum officinale). Generally, gardeners think of dandelion as a weed on account of its aggressive growth into lawns and borders. However, traditionally dandelion is a very widely used medicinale herb and the leaves of dandelion are also used nutritionally to add flavour to salads. Historically, the greeks, Arabs and English have all used dandelion as a medicine, although as trade routes flourished the use of dandelion became more widespread. Its current availability as tablets and decoctions means that the pharmacological properties of dandelion can be obtained without the need to harvest the plant directly as was the traditional method. However, nutritionally the dandelion plant can still be enjoyed fresh from the garden, with its lush green leaves making an excellent salad base. The traditional viewpoint is that dandelion leaves and roots are diuretics and liver tonics.
Dandelion is a rich source of phytochemicals including the terpenoids taraxerol, taraxacin, lactucin and taraxasterol. Dandelion also contains chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, two antioxidant compounds also present in the coffee bean. Phytosterols are present in the dandelion plant including sitosterol, campesterol, taraxasterol and stigmasterol. Dandelion also contains the flavonoid luteolin as glycosides, as well as high concentrations of potassium, carotenoids and vitamin C. In fact dandelion is particularly rich in potassium (~300 mg per 100 grams), and is often therefore used by herbalists to reverse low potassium levels. The root also contains sesquiterpene lactones and taraxoside, that give the root its bitter taste. The different nutritional properties of the root and leaves are interesting because the leaves may possess better diuretic properties than the root. Studies on rats show dandelion leaves are as effective as the prescription diuretic furosemide at causing diuresis.
The exact reason for dandelions diuretic effects are not fully understood, but it is likely that a number of the components of the leaves are responsible for this action. Dandelion can also improve the liver function through improving the condition of the gallbladder. In this regard dandelion has a choleretic effect (increases bile flow) and a cholagogic effect (increases the contraction of the bile duct). In addition, traditional herbalism has used dandelion as a digestive tonic. Dandelion may stimulate the appetite in cases where appetite has fallen, reduce abdominal bloating and cramps, as well as stimulate the flow of hydrochloric acid from the stomach. As well as being an important herb in its own right, dandelion is useful to combine with nettle for its diuretic effects or with milk thistle for its general liver tonic and digestive effects. Supplements or eating the whole plant should produce similar effects, although whole herb preparations are recommended because the active ingredients have not been identified.